28/04/2017
Mark Skelton

Azure Stack vs Azure. This month, I was fortunate to attend a closed session on Azure Stack at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, USA. Talking to Microsoft’s engineering team directly gives you a much deeper understanding of how Azure Stack hangs together and how it will deliver real value. Here’s just of a few of the insights I uncovered.

Mark Skelton Chief Technology Officer (@m_skelts) Make contact

Firstly, let’s rewind: Azure Stack vs Azure?

Most people are now pretty clear on what Azure is and its key benefits.  And indeed, it’s starting to surpass the adoption levels Amazon’s AWS service has achieved. “Azure surpasses AWS as the public cloud of choice

But in general, there’s less clarity in the market about Azure Stack.  So, what’s the key difference? In a nutshell, Azure Stack packages up Azure’s Services to run in your data centre, or a service provider’s data centre.  This means you can benefit from all the innovation within Azure platform but still keep the physical service in your facility.  

And this is a key point.  Because of this greater flexibility it opens up a number of new interesting use case scenarios for Azure.  Scenarios, which, in the past, simply weren’t possible.

Insight #1 – Azure Stack connects the disconnected

In an internet-driven world it’s hard to imagine, there are any work spaces NOT permanently connected to the internet. But these do still exist. And in these instances, Public Cloud services have never been an option.  The team at Airlift highlighted examples from the cruise industry.  Cruise ships are only really connected when they are near land and even then, they don’t have the bandwidth to run cloud services. 

But every cruise ship runs its own mini data centre for all vital IT services on board a ship.  In future, Stack will provide an Azure environment on-board that can deliver innovative systems that will work at sea. 

For example, Azure’s out-of-the-box cognitive search facility. This has the potential to revolutionise the on-board customer experience. From on board gambling to streamlining check–in, to no-key-cabins, to real time, personalised marketing opportunities - the potential is huge. 

And in this sense, I feel AzureStack is the next wave of the data centre ecosystem, in much the same way  virtualisation was.

It gives organisations, previously unable to leverage Public Cloud, the chance to start using it.

There have been similar attempts by other vendors to provide similar products in the market. But until Azure Stack, none have successfully been able to run both Public Cloud and private data centre solutions.   Microsoft’s vision is to have Azure data centres everywhere and deliver true global coverage.

Insight #2 – Azure Stack will easily integrate with Public Azure

One of the other key areas which Azure Stack delivers real value is the wealth of 3rd party integration Microsoft have built up with public Azure to date.  

The good news is most of this integration will be available to Azure Stack customers.  I say most. There are some marketplace items that private Azure Stack solutions won’t be able to deliver due to the private nature of Stack.  Take things like data lakes or large SAP instances. These won’t be available from day one.  At the moment the stack architecture is not at the scale to cope with these large systems.  But you have to remember Microsoft invest millions in server compute power in their datacentres and have the capacity to deliver hyper-scale.  

So what does this mean for you? Items listed in the Azure market place will be easily consumable in your own Azure Stack environment.  More than that, you’ll be able to add to your own private market place. This will provide the ability to deliver easy-to-consume services back to your organisation, via the easy-to-use Azure portal.  

I’m excited to see what solutions Independent Software Vendors can bring to market on Stack.

Insight #3 – Azure Stack release date?

There is limited information I can share publicly on the availability of Azure Stack.  Like the rest of the industry, I’m eagerly awaiting Microsoft’s official release date.  

What I can tell you, is when released, it will be comprehensive and will be a true reflection of what Azure can offer, on a scale that will suit both enterprises and service providers.  

The delivery model will be in partnership with selected hardware partners including HPE, Dell and Lenovo, with Cisco following at a later date.  (Incidentally, I was lucky enough to walk around one of the HPE innovation centres in the USA. There's another in Geneva. These are great for seeing Azure Stack in action.) 

Azure Stack will be an appliance based model with customer choice and flexibility around capacity and performance.  The rest is prescribed as part of their black-box solution.  For some, this may seem restrictive. But for me, it’s about making data centres easy to run and automate.  And with best practice coming as standard, this means far less time fire-fighting mistakes caused by human error and more time focussing on what really matters. 

Azure Stack’s automation capabilities will allow IT to re-focus time and effort.  It will allow teams to deliver services and projects that deliver the highest value back to the business.

Summing up Azure Stack: It makes Hybrid Cloud a reality

Azure Stack provides a new way of running your data centres and offers a compelling service-focused model that should be not taken lightly.  For many it will make Hybrid Cloud and Hybrid IT a reality.

Here at OCSL we certainly believe this is compelling solution and are investing heavily in a service provider solution based on Azure Stack.

When I can share more technical information, I’ll be happy to provide more details.  However, in the meantime, if you’d like to discuss any of these insights in more detail, and the potential benefits it could deliver for your organisation, please do get in touch.

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Thought piece